I struggle to translate questions which begin with "Is it", "Is that", "Is this" and "Are those". Consider the following examples:

a) "What is your ethnicity? Is it French or Italian?"

I would translate it as « Quelle est ton ethnicité? Est-ce le français ou le italien ?»

b) "I like your shoes. Are they cheap or expensive?

I would translate it as « J'aime tes chaussures. Sont-ce bon marché ou cher ?»

Are my translations correct? My aim was to ask these questions in a formal manner. Was I correct to invert C'est and Ce sont?

How does one ask questions beginning with "Is it", "Is that", "Is this" and "Are those" formally and informally?

  • 1
    We'd rather say ethnie than ethnicité in French but in any case, these words are controversial and too technical to be used like this. An idiomatic conversation would be Tu es de quelle origine ? Française ou italienne ?
    – jlliagre
    Dec 13, 2018 at 21:17
  • @jlliagre Thank you for the heads up but how would I ask the question formally? Also, my real question still stands. How do I ask questions beginning with "Is it", "Is that", "Is this", and "Are those"?
    – SFR
    Dec 13, 2018 at 21:21
  • Formal French might be De quelle origine es-tu / êtes-vous ? Française ou italienne ?
    – jlliagre
    Dec 13, 2018 at 22:04
  • Note that if you were really being formal, you wouldn't ask the question at all. What could possibly justify wanting to know something so personal in a formal situation?
    – user13512
    Dec 14, 2018 at 0:39
  • I just want to say that some of these forms are too formal (at least for spoken language). Even if you're very polite, talking to your boss or the president. I've never used "sont-ce" unironically, and I've never seen anyone using it not to make a joke or an impression. It's something you can hear from parodies of aristocrats, or ancient times conversations, but clearly not day-to-day stuff. (That includes almost all inversions with "je", like "Qu'ouïs-je" or "Pensé-je") Dec 14, 2018 at 10:31

1 Answer 1


a) Quelle est ton ethnicité? Est-ce le groupe ethnique des français ou des italien ?

b) J'aime tes chaussures. Sont-elles bon marché ou chères ?

The principle of inversion does apply in this context of question, however, the plural "sont-ce" is not much used; speakers and writers will rather use a personal pronoun; moreover, the affirmative form corresponding to "Sont-ce bon marché ou cher ?" does not exist; you dont say "Ce sont bon marché ou chères.". You have to say "Ce sont des chaussures bon marché ou chères."; then the question form becomes "Sont-ce des chaussures bon marché ou chères ?"; finally, as you probably noticed, there a necessary agreement of the adjective (gender and number: chères).

Here is the informal way to say that;

  • Ce sont des chaussures bon marché ou chères ?

  • (more informal yet) C'est des chaussures bon marché ou chères ?

is it => est-ce que c'est

  • (standard) Est-ce que c'est bon ? => Is it good?_ (informal) C'est bon ?
  • (standard) Est-ce que c'est un nuage ? => Is it a cloud? _ (informa) C'est un nuage

is this => Est-ce que ceci est

  • (standard) Est-ce que ceci est assez chaud ? => Is this warm enough? (informal) C'est assez chaud ça ?

is that => Est-ce que cela est

  • (standard) Est-ce que cela est un sac ? => Is that a bag ? _ (informal) C'est un sac ça ?

are those => est-ce que ceux-là sont

  • (standard) Est-ce que ceux-là sont à vendre ? => Are those for sale? (informal) Ils sont à vendre ceux-là ? or Ceux-là sont à vendre ?
  • 1
    What you describe as formal is standard French. Formal French would be: Ces chaussures, sont-elles bon marché ou chères ?, Est-ce bon ?, Est-ce un nuage ?, Est-ce assez chaud ?, Est-ce un sac ?, Ceux-là sont-ils à vendre ?
    – jlliagre
    Dec 13, 2018 at 22:08
  • Also, it's downright weird to mention "bon marché ou chères" in the same sentence, they're mutually exclusive so just as about one.
    – user13512
    Dec 14, 2018 at 0:42
  • @GeorgeM Dans ce magasin les chaussures sont bon marché ou chères ; tout est une question de qualité, et nous avons des articles pour des petites bourses tout aussi bien que des articles pour la clientèle argentée.
    – LPH
    Dec 14, 2018 at 5:06
  • @LPH Merci beaucoup pour votre aide! :) I do have a quick question: Consider the sentence « Elles sont des chaussures bon marché ou chères. » What is the grammar rule that causes the word « des chaussures » to be inserted after 'Ce sont' causing the sentence to become « Ce sont des chaussures bon marché ou chères. »?
    – SFR
    Dec 14, 2018 at 18:41
  • @CubbyKushi I can't refer to any given rule ; I can however relate this form to what seems to me a very similar form in English and that you'll recognize certainly : "Those are expensive shoes.". Except for the adj/noun inversion and the article ("des", it helps to be conscious ot the fact that English has a zero indefinite plural article, but not French) the construction is the same; you can say also "Those are expensive." and everyone understands that you're talking about the shoes; but then you can also insert "shoes" and "those" still stands for "shoes". (continued next)
    – LPH
    Dec 14, 2018 at 19:47

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